Photographs from a turbulent century

David Granville reviews The Irish: a photohistory 1840 - 1940 by Sean Sexton and Christine Kinealy, Thames and Hudson, £24.95 hbk

SEAN SEXTON has been collecting historic photographs of Ireland for thirty years and now owns what is possibly the finest private collection of such material anywhere in the world.

Two-hundred and seventy one of these fascinating images, covering all aspects of Irish life and including many previously which have been previously unpublished, are featured in The Irish: a photohistory 1840 - 1940.

The photographs are accompanied by Christine Kinealy’s clear and concise historical narrative of this turbulent period of Irish history. Kinealy is best known for her studies of starvation in Ireland in the last century, including This Great Calamity: the Irish famine 1845-52 and A Death-Dealing Famine.

Unfortunately, although the first Irish photographs date from 1840, a year after Louis Daguerre revealed his photographic process to the world, there are no photographs which record the suffering of this terrible episode.

For financial reason’s, photography in Ireland in its earliest years was largely the preserve of the ‘Big-House’ families, although, in a small number of cases, servants and estate workers would also sometimes found themselves the subject of the photographer’s lens.

However, from the 1860s onwards, images of the ordinary working people are more commonplace as a result of photographers expanding their artistic horizons and developments within the news and print media which offered new avenues of expression and employment for the photographer’s craft.

It is interesting to note that the many journalistic accounts and widespread photograph evidence of the brutal and traumatic evictions, which were a feature of the land war period, were the direct result of the Land League’s strategy of inviting journalists and photographers to witness such events.

Yet, whether portraying the ruling class, peasant labourers, republican hunger strikers, Irish ‘Tommies’ during the first world war or the street life of Ireland’s towns and cities in the lead up to the modern era, these photographs offer us a vivid insight into times whose legacy continues to have a massive impact on the Ireland of today.

Full credit must also go to arts publisher Thames and Hudson for the excellent quality of the finished product, which gives the book a distinct edge over previous publications covering similar territory.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-03-11 10:35:32.
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